The Central Pacific
The Central Pacific is one of Costa Rica’s jewels. It extends from Puntarenas
in the north to the Barú River in the south. The closest and most accessible
beaches to San José are found in this area. The beaches are sunny year-round,
the weather is hot and the ocean is warm. Whether you want to retire or
just live in a tropical paradise, the Central Pacific Coast has something for
you. Some of the outdoor activities the area offers are: golfing, sport fishing,
yachting, canopy tours, river rafting, parasailing, hang gliding, mountain
biking, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, bird watching and a lot more. There
are even places to study Spanish and practice yoga in this part of Costa Rica.
82 The New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica
Here is one expat’s take on the Central Pacific: “It was our experience
that the west coast was very much like where we came from in San Diego,
California. The ocean was similar to that of California (but warmer). There
has been a lot of American-style investment here. Prices, as you’d expect,
are higher as you get closer to the water. “
The Central Pacific, like Northwest Guanacaste, has been going
through quite a building boom over the past few years, and a whole lot of
resorts, condominiums, condotels, and gated communities are set to come
onto the market there in the near future. The rate of development is such
that it’s spilled out from the beach areas up and down the highway that
runs along the coast into the hills set back a few kilometers from the ocean.
The Central Pacific’s largest city, Puntarenas (meaning “sandy point”), sits
on a long, narrow peninsula or spit in the Gulf of Nicoya, a short 62 miles
from San José. The town itself is about three miles long but just a few blocks
wide. It is also the capital of the province of the same name. Costa Ricans
affectionately refer to Puntarenas as”El Puerto” or “the port.” Due to its
proximity, Puntarenas has been the main beach destination for Costa Ricans
from the Central Valley for more than a century. ticos still flock here to spend a
day or weekend. The seven-mile brown-sand, palm studded, Blue Flag beach
runs along the narrow spit of land. The beach is cleaned and raked every day.
The Paseo de los Turistas is a seaside palm-shaded walkway with a series
of souvenir kiosks, open-air bars and inexpensive restaurants that dot the
waterfront and add to the city’s atmosphere. This tourist promenade is also
the place where dozens of huge cruise ships anchor yearly. It buzzes with
activity day and night. Puntarenas also boasts year-round spectacular sunsets.
Puntarenas is also home to the country’s only aquarium, and is one of the
best places to savor fresh seafood, including chuchecas (ink-black clams). In
fact, the people who live in Puntarenas are affectionately called chuchequeros.
Some of the best marisquerías or seafood restaurants in the country are found
all along the Paseo de los Turistas. Puntarenas is also the home of another
local delight called the Churchill, a beverage similar to a snow cone over
which layers of syrup and ice cream are poured.
I know a few Americans who call this port city their home. Bill, is
a colorful local character who used to live in the San José area where he
managed a huge penthouse right in the heart of the city. When he started
to receive his monthly Social Security checks he moved to Puntarenas and
seems to be very content there.
The Central Pacific Coast to the south of Puntarenas offers superb
locations for living. This area has something for everyone: swimming and
surfing beaches, excellent sport fishing, developed and undeveloped beaches
and natural parks. The area is a magnet for beach lovers because of its
proximity to San José, especially now that the new Ciudad Colón-Orotina-
Caldera Highway is finished. You can get from San José to the Central Pacific
beaches in about an hour.
South of Puntarenas
Four miles north of Jacó, at Bahía Herradura, is the upscale Los Sueños
Marriott Ocean and Golf Resort, considered the premier resort and
marina in the area. Los Sueños is set on a 1,100-acre property surrounded
by protected rainforest. The largest full-service marina between Mexico and
Chile is found here. This 200-slip marina can accommodate vessels from 20
to 200 feet with all of the amenities international boaters expect. For more
information about the marina, call 1-866-865-9759 toll-free or see www.
Los Sueños Resort
In addition to boating facilities, the marina offers restaurants, bars, a
supermarket, gift shop, marine supplies and concessions for jet skis, kayaks,
water skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling and other recreational activities. There
is also an 18-hole, par-72 championship golf course, a 201-room palatial
Marriott Hotel, home sites, deluxe condominiums for sale and a number
of nature walks. All of the condos and the hotel feature elegant Spanish
colonial-style architecture. Condo prices start at about $500,000. Some
affluent visitors have been known to visit Los Sueños and like it so much
they never leave.
The improving infrastructure makes it idea for living with all of the
amenities of home. Plaza Herradura is located on the main Pacific Ocean
coastal highway (La Costanera) at the entrance to Playa Herradura and
the Los Sueños Resort. This new shopping center has an AutoMercado
supermarket that caters to the many North American residents of Los Sueños,
providing American brand names and products. The Fischel pharmacy is the
largest chain in Costa Rica, and carries typical medications and antibiotics.
In addition to the fast food restaurants at Plaza Herradura, Pizza Hut,
Subway and Spoon, the center also hosts four fine dining restaurants, Inka
Grille, Long, Samurai Sushi and Asian Cuisine. The mall also has Radio
Shack, furniture and appliance stores, resort wear, boating supplies, and
If you like a lot of action, good waves and partying, I recommend Jacó
Beach. Lately, it has become known as Jacopulco due to the many high-rise
condominiums under construction and its similarity in appearance to Acapulco.
Jacó is conveniently located just 72 miles from San José. This Key-Westlike
town is a very popular weekend retreat with both ticos and foreigners
since it is only one to two hours from San José. With a floating population
of about 40,000, it is by far the most developed beach town in the Central
Pacific region and has an excellent tourist infrastructure. An eclectic mixture
of foreigners and locals gives Jacó a sort of cosmopolitan feeling.
Central Jacó changes constantly, with new shops, strip malls, condos and
restaurants popping up almost monthly. A new shopping mall was completed
in 2007 and the area has a couple of large supermarkets (AutoMercado in
Herradura and Mas x Menos in downtown Jacó) that are stocked with both
Costa Rican and high-end imported products.
There are pizza parlors, international restaurants, handicraft shops, bars,
discos and late-night spots where you can party until the wee hours of the
morning. Water sports, especially surfing and sport fishing, attract scores
of people to the area. You can also explore the natural wonders of nearby
forests on foot, horseback or a canopy ride through the treetops. The Jacó
community’s new Plaza Coral Mall features 60 stores, a food court and
two formal restaurants and caters to both tourists and local residents.
Because of its fame, Jacó is usually packed on most summer weekends,
holidays such as Easter Week and special occasions such as surf tournaments.
Lodging ranges from four-star hotels to small, inexpensive cabins for locals
on a tight budget. Boredom will not be a factor here.
Like many beach spots popular with foreign men past their prime, Jacó
is a happening place to find a prostitute. The infamous Beatle Bar is the
hub of this activity.
Development in Jacó began earlier than in Tamarindo, though the
latter has now more or less caught up. Real estate brokers estimate that the
frenzy of condominium, resort, and condotel development will put about
2,000 new units on the market over the next few years. Of course, as with
any real estate development, some of the proposed projects may never get
built, especially considering the current woes of the global economy. It’s
something to look into before buying anything pre-sale in Jacó or anywhere
in the country. Overall, however, the message is that Jacó and its surrounding
areas will keep growing, though maybe not as quickly.
Many of the expatriate residents of the area are involved in the real estate
business in some way, whether developing, selling, marketing, or building.
A lot of the area’s developers, however, don’t live in the Jacó area. Other
expatriates here work in the tourist industry, managing hotels and beachfront
cabins or restaurants and clubs.
Downtown Jacó Beach is always bustling with activity
Of course, plenty of ticos are also involved in real estate and tourism, working
as real estate lawyers, developers, construction workers, electricians, plumbers,
waiters, and receptionists. The importance of tourism to the area means
there is plenty of English spoken. Tico residents who work in the service
industry mostly live in the small villages around Jacó such as Tarcoles, as
well as along the main road just outside Jacó.
Hermosa, about 10 minutes south of Jacó, has a completely different feel.
Do not confuse this idyllic community with the beach with the same name
in Guanacaste or the one near Uvita to the south. Hermosa (“beautiful”),
as its name indicates, is protected as a national wil life refuge.
Unlike Jacó, Hermosa has remained a low-key village popular mainly
with surfers because of good year-round waves Many international surfing
tournaments are held here every year. However, there is plenty to keep nonsurfers
busy, especially at nearby bustling Jacó.
A number of expatriates live in the area, running hotels or just enjoying
a quieter life. The village itself hasn’t yet been caught up in the condo boom.
Surfers apparently aren’t too worried about where they sleep, as long as they
have enough money for sex wax and beer. Expensive rooms there would
probably be a difficult sell.
Nevertheless, more building is underway on the land behind the beach
that rises steeply into areas of dense woodland. In that area, projects are
appealing to buyers seeking ocean views rather than the Jacó party scene.
The views from developments, especially like Hermosa Highlands, have to
be seen to be believed.
Esterillos means small estuary in Spanish. It is easy to get confused here because
the area is divided into Esterillos Oeste (West Esterillos) and Esterillos Este
(East Esterillos). This area has long, uncrowded beaches with treacherous
currents surrounded by African palm trees, estuaries and mangroves. Many
ticos have vacation homes along here, and there is a smattering of hotels as
well. Monterey del Mar and Xandari are two of the nicer hotels. The latter has
a great open-air restaurant with a good panoramic view of the beach. We stop
for lunch there on all of my Central Pacific retirement and relocation tours.
There has been a lot of building in this area. Cabo Caletas and Del
Pacifico are two huge projects in the Esterillos vicinity. Both projects are
supposed to eventually include golf courses.
Playa Bejuco is a nice beach with a few small developments nearby and
strong ocean currents just south of Esterillos Este.
The town of Parrita is located south of Esterillos or about half way between
Jacó and Quepos. It is a center for the African palm oil ranch founded by
the United Brands Fruit Company many years ago. In Parrita you can find
almost any service you may need. Parrita boasts a long seven-mile beach.
There are a few new housing developments being touted in the foothills a
few miles in back of the town.
There is good news for the town of Parrita. A new two-lane bridge
eliminates traffic congestion, which at peak hours, added an hour or more to
driving time. It replaces the one lane bridge that saw its better days decades
ago. The old bridge was lower and was sometimes submerged when the
Parrita river flooded.
Palo Seco is a gray-sand beach on a small peninsula a few miles south
of Parrita. There are a couple of new projects being built here . Tesroro
promises to be a good project but is currently on hold because the local
banks are not lending money due to the economic crisis in the U.S. Los
Pelícanos is an ambitious development that will be built along the canals
of the estuary. Many of the homes will come with a dock located on a canal.
Quepos and Manuel Antonio
The Quepos and adjoining Manuel Antonio area is one of the country’s
most popular tourist destinations, and offers some of the most beautiful beach
resorts in the world. Few other places in Costa Rica offer so much in one
spot. You will find endless activities to keep you busy in this quaint beach
town. Some of the area’s most prominent features are white sand, paradise
- like beaches, beautiful hidden coves, abundant wildlife, good nightlife, fine
cuisine, unforgettable sunsets from many vantage points and even a chance to
mingle with the Hollywood crowd at a five-star hotel. This area offers other
activities such as rafting on either the Naranjo or Savegre rivers, horseback
riding, four-wheeling, hiking and canopy tours in the incredible mountains
that serve as a backdrop to this part of Costa Rica.
Quepos and Manuel Antonio lie about an hour’s drive south from Jacó
and host a very different community altogether. Of the two, Quepos is the
bigger town but still very much a working fishing town rather than a tourist
destination. Its real estate market isn’t as developed as that of Manuel
Antonio, a 10-minute drive up the road.
Downtown Quepos is a beach community surrounded by forested hills
facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s not, however, the prettiest of Costa Rica’s beach
towns. Quepos has all the services one would expect to find in a large Costa
Rican town, including bars, boutiques, eateries, a mini-bookstore, good
nightlife banks, small supermarkets, tourist shops and a whole lot more to
keep local foreigners entertained.
The infrastructure is good here with a public hospital, an airport for
small planes and limited docking facilities. Construction of a new 200- slip
$11 million Pez Vela Marina began in 2006. Expect to see the commercial
real estate market heat up as the marina comes online in the near future and
attracts more sport fishermen and other tourists to the town. Until then,
Quepos is likely to remain a tico town bypassed by second-homeowners or
permanent residents fro the more attracative Manuel Antonio up the road.
Known for its sport fishing scene, Quepos is the site of several yearly
tournaments. Hotels, businesses and even an old airplane converted into a
restaurant are scattered around the hills and line the highway between Quepos
and Manuel Antonio. Many of the hotels are situated on large properties that
extend into the forest.
Most foreigners live in and around the town of Quepos and along the
road leading to Manuel Antonio National Park, just a few kilometers south
and over the hill. The community living here is relatively young and run the
numerous local tourist businesses. The coastal road connecting Quepos to
the Manuel Antonio National Park is filled with boutique hotels, restaurants,
bars, clubs and spas, all with their share of the ocean views that make the
town so special (and expensive) for many.
The park is nestled on some 682-plus hectares of land. The park receives
more visitors than any other park or reserve in the country. If you are a
nature lover you can always explore the national park or go to one of its
pristine white-sand beaches that slope down from tropical forests into the
clear blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. The park teems with paradisiacal
flora and fauna.
Despite its distance from an international airport and city-quality shopping
and services, real estate prices in Manuel Antonio have risen to be some of
the highest in the country. It comes as no surprise that the popularity of the
park, the beauty of the beaches, and the quiet magnificence of the ocean views
have all played a part in pushing vacation rental prices for family homes high.
Renting a vacation home in Manuel Antonio can be a profitable business.
In the past, many real estate investors came to Manuel Antonio to build
large individual houses and buy tracts of land for segregation. The condominium
market, however, has yet to take off. There are a couple of mid-sized
towers under construction, but for now the Manuel Antonio buyer is more
interested in a single-family home for personal use and vacation rental.
The long-awaited Costanera Sur
By Christopher Howard
The idea of coastal highway linking Quepos in the Central Pacific with
Dominical in the South Pacific was originally conceived during the
government of José María “Don Pepe” Figueres Ferrer in the year
1970. Work was begun in 1976 under the government of Daniel
Oduber Quirós, but the concession was cancelled when a Spanish
company pulled out of the project. Thirty years of delays were basically
due to a lack of funding and bureaucratic snags which kept the project
in limbo until the Arias administration (2006-2010) made it a priority
to finish this baldly needed north-south artery.
The transportation ministry (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y
Transportes or MOPT) promised that by the end of the 2009 the entire
42 kilometers (26 miles) between Quepos and Dominical would be
paved. Well his prediction was almost correct. As of April 2010 only
about three kilometers just north of Dominical are unpaved and one
bridge has to be completed.
The project is a boon to tourism and will open up the whole area
south of Quepos. Trucks can now easily go north and south along
the coast without traveling on the Pan-American Highway that passes
through San José, and Cartago and thus avoid also crossing the dreaded
Cerro de la Muerte or “Hill of Death” (appropriately named due to
the sometimes treacherous driving conditions and cold temperatures)
twice when going from one border to another.
The paving was done in two sections. Consorcio Meco-Santa
Fe had the job between Savegre and Quepos. That stretch is about
19 kilometers (about 13 miles) and cost $16.4 million. The section
from Savegre to Dominical is 22.6 kilometers (about 14 miles) and
was the responsibility of Constructora Solís-Sánchez Carvajal. The
contract was for $15.5 million. The Meco-Santa Fe contract had a
deadline of eight months. The Solís-Sánchez Carvajal had a 10-month
deadline, according to MOPT. In both sections the workers installed
a 30-centimeter (12-inch) sub-base, a 20-centimeter (eight-inch) base
and a 13-centimeter (5.1-inch) road surface.
The new highway has changed everything. It used to take at least
two hours or more to travel from Dominical to Quepos. Now it can be
done in under an hour. The highway is a as smooth as glass and a far
cry from the old pothole filled-road.
Expect, to see the commercial real estate market heat up as a marina
comes online in the near future and attracts sport fishermen and other tourists
to the town. Until then, Quepos is likely to remain a Tico town bypassed by
second-home owners or permanent residents for the more attractive Manuel
Antonio up the road.
On the downside, the area between Quepos and Manuel Antonio
National Park has been overbuilt and there is little land available near the
coast. Consequently, more and more people are purchasing land in the
spectacular foothills and mountains to the east.
One of the best opportunities I have seen in this area are lots offered in
Vistas de Manuel Antonio, where a 5,000 square meter ocean-view lot costs
around $150,000 with a log home on it. For additional information call toll-free
1-888-581-1786 or e-mail: robert@costaricaretirementvacationproperties.
Matapalo located about 15 miles south of Quepos and along the new coastal
highway, between Quepos and Dominical, is a little town with a laid-back
beach community and a virtually unspoiled beach. The long beach is perfect
for walking, horseback riding or just soaking up the rays. A lot of beachfront
property can still be had this area. There are also many beautiful homes and
lots with ocean views in the foothills behind Matapalo. The town has a few
hotels, restaurants and places to buy basic groceries.
I know quite a few foreigners who live here. My friend Robert Klenz
has built a large equestrian development called the Hills of Portalón in the
mountains high above this area.
All of the property between Quepos and Dominical will increase
dramatically in value because the new 26-mile coastal highway or Costanera
Sur (see sidebar). The main reason this area had escaped development for over
forty years was its inaccessibility. The old road from Quepos to Dominical
was described as “a road from hell.” Driving along it used to be like sitting
on a vibrating bed at full speed or riding a mechanical bull like in the movie
“Urban Cowboy.” Some locals theorized that the políticos (politicians) and
rich businesspeople in Quepos deliberately used their influence to keep this
stretch of the coastal highway from being paved because they feared they
would lose a lot of business given the natural beauty of Dominical and the
areas to the south. One thing is for sure the new highway will sure beat the
old one from having to travel over the inland route or Cerro de La Muerte
and through San Isidro to get to the Southern Zone.